The Very Finest At The World Equestrian Games By Leonora Smee
Celebrated every four years and alternating with the Olympic Games, the World Equestrian Games, sponsored by Land Rover, is undoubtedly one of the biggest equestrian events in the world. Over a thousand horses and the finest athletes from 76 nations compete against each other in the eight official Fédération Equestre Internationale disciplines, including Jumping, Dressage, Vaulting and Endurance, in front of more than half a million spectators. I was invited by Land Rover to witness some of this fine equine prowess.
Our first day took in the Endurance Race, which was a huge eye-opener! Perseverance and strength allowed these miraculous riders to complete what was ten hours of an unforgiving and extraordinarily challenging course. I had the fortune of meeting the mother of bronze medallist Abdulrahman Saad A.S. Al Sulaiteen, and spoke to His Royal Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Khalifa bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar. Whilst watching the prize-giving, I also secured a chat with the eventual winner of the race, Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohamad bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
The freestyle Dressage the next day was breath-taking, leaving me with goose-bumps. The consistent control – with no margin for error – is incredible. A real high for me was being able to witness Olympic and European Champion Charlotte Dujardin win Gold and become World Champion. After receiving her award, I caught up with her for an exclusive interview. I asked her how she felt at becoming World Champion with her outstanding horse, Valego. What a pleasant, driven and inspiring woman she is! I also spoke to silver medallist Helen Langehanenberg, and found out what her victory means to her.
The following day was Eventing but overnight, the weather had not been good, leaving the cross-country course very wet and incredibly difficult, resulting in last-minute adjustments and the removal of two of the obstacles. After watching the first few riders, it became very apparent that this was not going to be an easy course to complete. Team GBR rode four attacking rounds, ending up top of the leader board. Although the ground was heavy, the horses jumped well. Devastatingly, Wild Lone (ridden by Harry Meade) died suddenly after completing the course.
I caught up with Zara Phillips after her ride, and she was very pleased with how her horse, High Kingdom, had performed. She told me that, “he jumped fantastically, although it is proving very difficult. We need the rest of the team to nurse their horses and come home clear.” She had in fact only returned to the saddle this spring, following the birth of her daughter with husband Mike Tindall. After an exhausting day, it transpired that Phillips, together with William Fox-Pitt, Tina Cook and Harry Meade, had taken Team GBR to second place on the leader board, helping Britain to secure a place at the next Olympics.
The whole trip was rounded off by our stay at the 5 star Les Bains de Cabourg Hotel, just outside of Caen. This charming hotel offered all the creature comforts you would expect. We were also given a classic French cookery lesson – great fun and very educational. Of course, this also meant that I got to sample some of the wonderful food as well!
Seeing as we had been invited by Land Rover, we were also able to try out some driving experiences. This was all about developing new driving skills through tackling some very unfamiliar terrain! But I had an experienced instructor by my side to guide me through, and my confidence increased with each obstacle I was able to overcome. As a show-jumper, it was great to really be able to push my limits and realise my capabilities behind the wheel, rather than on a horse!
In all, the World Equestrian Games is a thrilling event, not just for serious equestrians, but also for those who love high-octane, nail-biting sport held in world-class surroundings. Here’s to the next four years!
For more information about Land Rover, go to www.landrover.co.uk/contact-us.